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Thai PM Srettha to take finance portfolio amid tepid economic growth

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– Thailand’s new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin was named finance minister on Saturday in a cabinet that was endorsed by the king, as the real estate tycoon seeks to boost Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy and implement key campaign promises.

Thailand’s economy has been faltering due to weaker exports and investments, with the central bank saying last month that the full-year forecast for 3.6% growth could be lowered.

Reviving Thailand’s economy will be one of the biggest tasks for political newcomer Srettha, who became prime minister last month following prolonged uncertainty after a May election.

The new cabinet, disclosed in a royal gazette and endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, will see Srettha’s Pheu Thai party, backed by the billionaire Shinawatra family, oversee the defence, transport, commerce, health and the foreign ministry portfolios.

The announcement of the new cabinet comes weeks after Srettha, former president of luxury property developer Sansiri, won a parliamentary vote in August to become prime minister.

On the day of the vote, Pheu Thai figurehead Thaksin Shinawatra returned to Thailand in a dramatic homecoming after living abroad for 15 years in self-exile to avoid an 8-year prison sentence. On his first night back, Thaksin was transferred to a police hospital over chest pains and high blood pressure. He later submitted a request for a royal pardon.

On Friday, the king commuted the sentence to one year, citing his loyalty to the monarchy and his poor health.

Srettha’s rapid ascent to power, Thaksin’s smooth return and a coalition between Pheu Thai and former rivals fuelled speculation about an agreement between Thaksin and his foes among the country’s powerful conservative and royalist army. Thaksin and the Pheu Thai party say that is not the case.

The Pheu Thai will control key economic ministries, which will be crucial in implementing its policies, including a 10,000 baht ($285.63)handout in the form of digital currency.

Its largest coalition partner, Bhumjaithai, best known for advocating the use of medical cannabis, will oversee the education, interior and labour ministries.

Conservative and pro-military parties will lead the energy and environment ministries.

Srettha and his cabinet of 33 ministers will swear an oath before an audience with the king, then deliver a policy statement at parliament before they start work this month.

Srettha had said the first cabinet meeting would tackle cost of living problems by reducing electricity and gas prices, and relaxing visa entry rules for Chinese arrivals to boost tourism.

($1 = 35.0100 baht)

(This story has been refiled to correct spelling of ‘pains’ in paragraph 6)

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